Governance & Membership

November 2019 President's Message

Advice to My Younger Self

By Charles W. Chesnut

Recently, I was reflecting on my year as president of the OBA. It is rapidly drawing to a close. Once the Annual Meeting is over, the remaining two months will fly by. My thoughts have been running more toward how I have evaluated the year so far from a personal standpoint and the lessons I have learned.

I think any bar president would tell you that the year is equal parts exciting and overwhelming. In spite of the amount of time and work invested, it is a wonderful experience because of the people you meet. I am grateful for the opportunities and the challenges it has brought me. When embarking on this journey initially, I often felt overwhelmed and it really made me wonder if I was up to the task. Candidly, I think we all feel that way about any new and significant undertaking in our life.

I was thinking of the lessons I have learned or re-learned in the last year. I thought it might be interesting in approaching it as if I was giving advice to a 30-year-old version of me, and after having experienced the events of the last year, what advice would I offer?

I reached out to our two immediate past presidents, Linda Thomas and Kim Hays, and asked them since they had served as OBA president, what words of advice would they give to their younger selves?

Kim responded, “Your professional reputation and your legal skills are always evolving. Seek the advice of a mentor or even engage as co-counsel a more experienced attorney when you are challenged with a new legal issue. Protect your reputation by remaining professional and courteous to opposing counsel, even when you may not be receiving the same courtesy.”

Linda wrote, “Opportunity is everywhere, but often presents itself in small, seemingly insignificant ways. It may even be disguised as ‘just more work to do.’ Look for opportunity in places you’d never expect to find it. Don’t sit back, waiting for opportunity to find you. Step out of your comfort zone and make it happen. Finally, don’t be afraid to make mistakes – everybody makes them.”

Here is my advice to a 30-year-old version of me:

1) You are capable of accomplishing much, much more than you ever think possible. Once you commit yourself and quit wondering if you can do it, the job falls into place. Take stock of what needs to be done. Prioritize. Then start knocking off the items on your list one by one. Make decisions promptly. Use common sense and your gut instinct when considering the best way to proceed. Get input from those around you. Make your decisions; then move on. Put your head down and your shoulder to the wheel. All of a sudden, when you look up, your year is almost over.

2) Don’t worry about things you can’t control. Things happen all the time that you have no control over. Floods. Lawsuits. When they do, take stock of the situation, gather your resources and move forward together to solve the problem at hand. This too shall pass.

3) Stop making decisions based upon your fears. Be brave. Take some calculated risks. Things tend to work out well if you don’t get in your own way – and life is a lot more fun when you take some risks.

4) People want you to do well. There are a lot of wonderful people out there who are very supportive and willing to help and pitch in. They are also appreciative of the fact that you have devoted a year of your life to kicking the can a little further down the road on behalf of the OBA.

5) In organizations such as the OBA, great things are seldom accomplished in a year. Improvements usually happen incrementally; but when improvements consistently occur each year, even if incrementally, then over a period of years, the organization moves forward significantly. You are just a part of that change. Don’t take yourself too seriously.

6) Be sure to recognize others around you for what they accomplish and give them credit. Your part in all of this is really pretty insignificant. Other people move the organization forward. There is a new bar president every year. Keep your perspective and acknowledge others.

7) If you’d like to serve in a position, then ask. If necessary, ask again. Don’t assume that people will reach out to you to serve. This group has 15,700 active members. You may not be on the radar, but it doesn’t mean you can’t be. The OBA is always looking for gifted, energetic attorneys to get involved. Ask to be appointed to a committee or a position. Then perform well. Great performance and contribution are always recognized and appreciated. It just takes time and energy. As likely as not, it will be a springboard to more opportunities ahead.

8) Finally, be grateful that you have the opportunity to serve. Not everyone gets the opportunity to serve and not everyone wants the responsibility that goes with it. Be grateful for it; and when it’s over, let the next person play their part. Do everything you can do to ensure they have a successful year.

That’s my advice to a 30-year-old me. Only two more months to go, but already I thank you. I appreciate the opportunity to serve each of you and the OBA as president. I certainly appreciate the OBA staff and the attorneys who volunteer their time and contribute their energy to make the OBA the organization that it is.

Originally published in the Oklahoma Bar Journal -- OBJ 90 pg. 4 (November 2019)